Dyeing with sorghum extracts

I recently experienced natural dyeing with sorghum extract for the first time. I bought this powder extract on Alysse Creations website a while ago now, but I never had time to try it. I was expected some brown shades, but the results was actually quite more interesting!

Sorghum is a genus of flowering plants in the grass family Poaceae. This plant is grown in temperate and warm regions like Australia, Africa, Asia Mesoamerica and some islands of the Indian Pacific oceans. It is an important crop worldwide, used for food where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people, animal fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, and biofuels. It is the fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world. Sorghum is not well known as a dye plant in Europe but it is used in Africa to dye leather for shoes as well as reeds and grasses for making mats.

Regarding my dyeing tests, I wanted to explore the potential of this new (for me) plant, so I decided to go for a declination of the color palette on linen and cotton, depending of the fabrics preparation. I am still focusing on cellulose based fabrics because in my point of view it would be too complicated to introduce protein based fabrics in the process for the moment, too many parameters to deal with at the same time and I prefer to gain more experience with that kind of fabrics at first. I have also more idea of sewing projects with linen and cotton, compare to silk and wool, and I like to dye with a final goal in mind, by achieving something concrete that I will use. With the daily highligthed problems for the environement generated by the mass production of things, I do not feel confortable to create new stuff and use fabrics only for generating once again useless objetcts, that will be lay down in a cupboard: I like to make it at purpose!

After this short philosophical thought moment, let’s go deeper into the dyeing process that I used. First I scoured the fabrics: 4 small pieces of linen + 1 larger, and 4 pieces of double gauze cotton + 1 larger, that I soaked into the water bath with three teaspoons of sodium carbonate, boiled it for about an hour, and let it cooled down several hours.

Then, I decided to test the dyeing without mordanting. After dissolving two large teaspoons of extract into a large stainless steel pot filled with water, I sank one little piece of linen and one little piece of cotton gauze into the bath, and gently heated up during about an hour. Once again I let it cooled down and soaked over a night (even about 24h). Then I simply rinsed the fabrics to remove the excess of dyeing, and let them dried. I obainted an old-pink with both types of fabrics, that I found very interesting.

As I do really liked this color, I decided to dye the large linen fabric before to go further with this dyeing bath. Once again, following the same process, I obtained an old pink. I will probably use later this large linen fabric to sew a pillow cover for my bed.

As the pink achieved was once again really loveley, I decided to dye again in the same bath the large piece of cotton gauze. This piece of fabric will be later dedicated to sew a baby’s diaper for my little girl.

I moved forward with different mordanting processes. With all remaining fabrics, I followed the mordanting process described in Aurélia Wolff book for cellulose based fibers, when oak galls are not used. In principle, 30% of alun of the fibers weight when they are dried must be added to 15% of cream of tartar of the fibers weith. Unfortuntaly I forgot to weight the fabrics before scouring… So I put two times more of alun (one large teaspoon) than the cream of tartar (half of a teaspoon) into a large pot filled with water. I heated it for about half an hour and let the fabrics soaked in it before further uses.

I dyed one small fabrics of linen and one small fabrics of cotton in the previous sorghum dyeing bath. I obtained a very light brown.

It is well known that mordanting with only alun on cellulose based fibers do not work very well. In her book, Aurélia Wolff describes a process using oak galls, whereas in “The Modern Natural Dyer”, Kristine Vejar uses a process with wheat bran bath. In both cases, a step with a rich tanin bath is needed. I knew that black tea is really rich in tanin, and that the dyeing color stay quite light, something like a beige. So I decided to pre-dyed two small pieces of each fabric type into a black tea bath. then I sank again the fabrics into the mordanting bath prepared with alun and cream of tartar, before dyeing them into the sorghum dyeing bath. I obtained a light brown.

To finish the experiments, I dyed into the sorghum bath the last two mordanted pieces of fabrics following the same dyeing process than previously described, and then I added a quarter of teaspoon of iron sulfate. Very gently, I heated the bath for 5 min, before to dye again the fabrics in it for about 15-20min. With this last process I obtained a real brown color.

After each dyeing process, I rinsed the fabrics to evacuated the excess of dyeing before to let them dried.

I was happy to discover the large color pallette that can be achieved using sorghum extracts. Playing with different mordanting processes allows to generate very different colors, and I am sure that the pallette could be definitely even more diversified if I would try with other mordanting processes. But it will be for later experiments!

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